When TV Everywhere was first outlined in 2009, it was meant to keep subscribers on cable by giving them streaming web content for free. But the framework, which aims to foster services that bundle traditional cable and streaming video, has seen limited success. At a conference last week, Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes admitted that cable companies were losing the online market to services like Hulu and Netflix. "We have to move much faster," Bewkes said. "And if we don't, we do risk letting others take this opportunity."

TV Everywhere — which urges operators to put content behind a paywall that limits it to current TV subscribers — is a simple idea, but in practice it has exposed deep tension between operators and networks. Since cable providers must negotiate separate deals for each channel, disputes over how content can be licensed are commonplace. News Corp. and Disney, for example, will only license content to TV Everywhere if subscribers can also watch the content through their joint venture Hulu. Cable operators, however, see services like Hulu as a "Trojan horse" that will eventually lure away subscribers.

Cable company Dish has allowed its user to watch shows through Hulu, but other operators, in the words of Dish vice president of programming Dave Shull, are still trying to "hold the customer to themselves." Unfortunately, they may have little incentive to change. The more convenient TV Everywhere becomes, the more it threatens to undermine the traditional subscription model and the ability of cable companies to control how users get content. If channels make shows available through their own apps, for example, they'll be able to collect email addresses and other user information that could make them less dependent on cable operators. Paid TV subscriptions are hardly going extinct, but users may have to look elsewhere for cross-platform viewing.